Character Sketch–Alex

Alexander James Miller

Born 1977. Graduated from UPenn with dual degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Computer Programming and commissioned in the Navy in 2000 as a Cryptologic Warfare Officer. Kept on active duty longer than usual because of the war and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Enrolled in the joint PhD program in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard in 2006 and graduated 2012.

Alex was originally inspired by someone I used to ride the bus with in grad school. I never actually spoke to him, but we sat together almost every day. He was a short, rather dweeby-looking guy with dark golden hair and facial stubble that was all almost the same length. He carried a bag that had patches from various Naval deployments on it. I was always curious about his story, so in Alex I decided to create my own, probably more exciting and romantic, version of it.

Alex looks only very vaguely like Ewan McGregor in my mind. But that’s the only actor I could think of who looked much like him at all. So we’ll go with that 🙂

When Alex morphed into a more important character and a romantic lead, I had to make him taller, better-looking, and more intense and less dweeby in my mind, but he’s still slender and wiry, and with dark golden hair in a fairly even stubble all over his head and face.

Alex comes from a privileged upper-middle-class intellectual background. His father was a dean at Temple University, and it was always assumed that Alex would go into academia as well. Like Rowena’s brother John, Alex rebelled against his family’s expectations by running away and joining the military, something that in retrospect he feels very ambivalent about. In Permanent Position he describes how he felt after coming home from Iraq (based on a true story, FYI):

I was really fucked up after I got back from Iraq. Angry at everyone, especially myself. I’m lucky anyone who knew me back then will still speak with me.

That must have been difficult, I texted cautiously. Alex never talked much about his service, other than to say that knowing about it tended to make people jump to unwarranted conclusions about him, and take him as something that he wasn’t.

Mostly my own fault. Of course, the whole thing was mostly my own fault. But when I got back and got out of the service, I wanted to burn my uniform, did I tell you that?

No. You must have had a very difficult time.

S’okay. Other people had much worse times. Especially the Iraqi people we were “liberating.”

It was a difficult thing for everyone.

It was what it was. And when I got back and got out, I took my uniform out to my parents’ backyard and started a fire in our firepit. Because of course we’re the kind of folks who have a poncy outdoor firepit in our backyard. So no pity! So I started up a fire, and my dad came out and saw I had my uniform all laid out next to it, and he was like, “What the hell are you doing, son?” So I told him I was going to burn my fucking uniform, and what I couldn’t burn, I was going to smash with a hammer.

A recurring theme with Alex is people’s expectations vs. reality: he is very aware of the stereotypes about Navy servicemembers and compares himself unfavorably to Chris Kyle, Maverick from Top Gun, and the Richard Gere character in An Officer and a Gentleman. He, on the other hand, claims to have sat out his war writing reports in a broom closet, although judging by his intensely emotional response to his uniform, there may be more to it than that. Stay tuned for more updates!

Like John, Alex also acts as Rowena’ Dark Double sometimes. He is the one who voices a lot of the most vicious critiques of academia and academic culture, saying the things that Rowena can’t bring herself to say. Nonetheless, he finds himself sucked more and more into academic success, partly through his privilege and connections.